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Not the same old Sens

Win bodes well for Ottawa; MacLean firing overdue

Posted: Friday April 20, 2007 1:16PM; Updated: Friday April 20, 2007 2:44PM
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Chris Phillips led a punishing Ottawa defense that kept Sidney Crosby in check.
Chris Phillips led a punishing Ottawa defense that kept Sidney Crosby in check.
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The Ottawa Senators are like your troubled teenagers who are heading off to college. You never thought they'd make it, but they have. This doesn't mean they'll land the big job or even figure out how to do their own laundry. Getting through the next phase of life (or next round of the playoffs) will be another challenge, but it is time to forget about past transgressions and failures and pat them on the back for graduating and moving on.

The Senators have earned your applause. They beat a good hockey team. They beat the most exciting hockey player in the land. Not only did they win, but they kept Sidney Crosby and his spirited, talented band of Pittsburgh Penguins off the scoresheet entirely in the fifth-game clincher. They held the team that can fire at will to a manageable 20 shots for their goaltender, Ray Emery. They blanked the Pens on 17 straight power-play chances, including two five-on-three opportunities -- one for 1 minute 14 seconds -- on Thursday night.

These are clearly not your older brother's Senators. Remember those series when the Sens would strut in with 100-point teams and disappear in the playoff spotlight? Daniel Alfredsson was a frequent culprit. In his last two seasons, he scored three goals in 17 playoff games. He matched that total against Pittsburgh (six points in all) and skated shift for determined shift with the Pens' swift forwards.

The scorers all chipped in. Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley had four points apiece and played well at both ends of the rink. "We were more physical than people expected us to be," Spezza told reporters after Game 5. "Everybody got in on the bumping." And they did it against a team that had beefed itself up at the end of the season by acquiring not only gritty vet Gary Roberts, but Georges Laraque, the league's reigning heavyweight champ.

Mike Fisher, as good a defensive forward as there is in the NHL, was a devastating bodychecker in Game 5. When Fisher then started bumping Roberts, the Ottawa crowd started mocking Roberts for his ineffective play. That hasn't happened to him very often.

These Senators made sacrifices. Two of the top five players in blocked shots during the postseason are Ottawa defensemen: Mark Eaton of the Pens leads the NHL with 18, but the Sens' Chris Phillips (third) has 16 and Anton Volchenkov (fifth), who may be the best in the game at it, has 14. Phillips has spent his entire nine-year career in Ottawa. Volchenkov has only been there four years, one of which was spent nursing a shoulder injury for most of the season. For five games, the two defensemen morphed themselves into Crosby wallpaper, crowding him, sticking to him, annoying him like chewed up bubble gum each time he got near the Ottawa net.

The Senators will face a stiffer test in the second round against either the more experienced Devils or Rangers, but they have earned the right to celebrate their first-round graduation and will surely be a sobering opponent for the next team they meet.

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